Spain is a country that shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean. It is a place of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Spain is a historic country of stone castles, snow-capped mountains, imposing monuments and tasteful cities, and an attractive European destination for its friendly people, laid-back lifestyle, gastronomy, vibrant nightlife and world-famous monuments. Among the most important places are the capital Madrid, the coastal city of Barcelona, Andalusian cities with Islamic architecture, such as Seville, Granada and Cordoba.
In the north-east of the country is the mountainous region of Catalonia and the coastal plain of Valencia. To the northwest are the Cantabrian Mountains, a rugged mountain range with forests and high peaks. To the south are the citrus-rich lands of the Guadalquivir river valley, commemorated in the lyrics of Spanish poets such as Federico García Lorca. Above this valley rises the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. The southern part of the country is desert, an extension of the Sahara made familiar to Americans by the “spaghetti western” films of the 1960s. With flora including palm trees and other tropical vegetation, the southeastern Mediterranean coast and the Balearic Islands enjoy a mild climate, attracting millions of visitors, especially from Northern Europe.
With great beaches, nightlife and historic cities, Spain is a great destination for any type of travel. Those wishing to avoid the crowds are better off visiting in winter, when attractions such as the Alhambra in Granada and La Gran Mezquita in Córdoba are less crowded.
Its history begins in the pre-Roman era and the colonies of the Greeks and Phoenicians and was the center of a global empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
After the spread of Christianity, conflict between pagan tribes and Christians in the 7th and 8th centuries led the better organized Moorish Muslims to invade and gain control over most of the peninsula for seven hundred years.
In 1492, the year the last of the Moorish rulers were expelled from Spain, ships under the command of Christopher Columbus arrived in America. For the next 300 years, Spanish explorers and conquistadors traveled the world, claiming vast lands for the Spanish crown. For centuries Spain was arguably the richest country in the world. However, with the steady decline of its continental and overseas empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, Spain lost its global prestige. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) thrust the country back into the world spotlight, only to be followed by a four-decade dictatorship under Francisco Franco. After Franco’s death in 1975, King Juan Carlos returned to the throne and led a constitutional monarchy. In 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated for personal reasons and his son Felipe VI acceded to the throne. Juan Carlos lives in self-exile from Spain after financial scandals.
The various cultures that have a presence in Spain, the Castilians, the Catalans, the Galicians, the Basques, the Romans, the Arabs, the Jews and the Roma, contributed to the formation of the customs and the artistic heritage. The Moors, who ruled parts of Spain, also left a legacy of fine architecture, lyric poetry and the sciences, while the Roma contributed to flamenco music.
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